In medical education, student distress is known to hamper learning and professional development. To address this problem, recent studies aimed at helping students cope with stressful situations. Undergraduate students in clinical practice frequently use experiences of surrounding peers to estimate their abilities to master such challenging situations. This use of the experiences of others, known as social comparison, may affect student distress both positively and negatively. To find characteristics of a beneficial use of social comparison, we examined differences in comparison behaviours between students expressing low and high levels of distress. The participants in our study, response rate 93 % (N = 301/321), were all medical students in their first year in clinical practice. They completed the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-12) to measure distress, and three separate questionnaires to measure: (1) orientation to comparison, (2) motive for comparison, and (3) interpretation of comparison. Differences were analysed using multivariate analysis of variance. Although all students were oriented towards social comparison, the analyses showed that this orientation was less apparent among low-distress students. Besides, the low-distress students were less inclined to use motives indicative for comparisons with peers perceived as performing worse and were less negative in the interpretations of their comparisons. As social comparison is frequently used among all students, we recommend to make them aware of their comparison behaviours and inform them about the pros and cons of the distinguished aspects of the comparison process.